Overcrowding a Problem for Kids

Children’s TV marketplace expected to be fl at despite new entrants

The smackdown for the attention of young viewers will get some new heavyweights in 2010. Discovery Communications’ The Hub—its rebrand for Discovery Kids—and SyFy will look to crack open a piece of the billion- dollar-plus market.

But as the kids upfront pitches get started on March 11 with Nickelodeon’s presentation in New York, the emergence of new players doesn’t necessarily mean there’s any more money to go around. While the scatter market is running as much as 30% above upfront levels in other sectors, in the kids marketplace scatter is just a tick above upfront rates. The 2009 kids upfront was pegged at $850 million, according to industry estimates, and few see that—or the total ad spend figure— increasing.

“I would say 2010 is going to be down versus 2009 as far as calendar-year spending,” says Francois Lee, VP and activation director at MediaVest USA. Lee does note that major toy companies reported decent fourth-quarter earnings, and the annual New York toy fair has generated some buzz.

Kantar Media fi gures puts the overall children’s cable TV market at $1.175 billion in 2009, down from $1.281 billion in 2008. The company tracks Nickelodeon, Nick Tunes, Cartoon Network and Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Tunes/XD, but not Discovery Kids.

Discovery has said little as yet about its rebranded kids entrant. A year ago, the factual giant sold a half-share in Discovery Kids to toy retailer Hasbro, and will turn the channel into The Hub this fall under the aegis of former Fox Kids Network chief Margaret Loesch. Hasbro paid $300 million for its share of the channel, but it’s unclear whether the company, which owns properties such as G.I. Joe and My Little Pony, will continue to spend as widely with other services as a result of its big media investment.

How visible Hasbro’s own brands will be on the new channel is of keen interest to TV buyers. “We have to see what programming they put on and how directly or indirectly they support it,” Lee says. “I’m sure they’ll maintain a presence on other networks. If there’s preferential treatment, I think it would create issues for other advertisers.”

Also joining the fray will be NBC Universal’s SyFy. “As of fourth quarter, 13 million 2-11-year-olds were watching, with 25 million adults living with a child of those ages,” says Alan Seiffert, senior VP of SyFy Ventures. “The kids side in many ways has not been well served, and we’re in a unique place because our channel is very special.”

SyFy is looking to break out of its tight niche as a service for science-fiction aficionados and aims to embrace the wider theme of imagination. “What better audience to grow that with than children,” Seiffert adds. Kids programming will launch first online and then is likely to appear on the channel in the next six months.

Not all players in the space are linear networks. Comcast, an owner of PBS Sprout, is also out selling advertisers on its growing video-on-demand catalog, which has gained notable traction in the sector.

Diana Kerekes, VP of video content at Comcast Cable, reports that customers ordered up a monthly average of 25 million hours of kids-themed content in 2009. In terms of usage, customers viewed kids content 70 million times over the same period.

“On Demand is huge for kids; it is our most-viewed area within the On Demand system,” Kerekes says. Between 2005 and 2010, Comcast says it has experienced a 370% increase in views of kids shows.